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Benefits of Colostrum

Benefits of Colostrum

Colostrum is a highly nutritious form of breast milk mammals produce that promotes their newborn’s health in the first few days of life. Over the years, research has uncovered the mechanisms responsible for colostrum’s health benefits and illuminated its potential to support health across the lifespan. Read on for an in-depth review of colostrum.

What is colostrum?

Referred to as a mother’s first milk, colostrum is the breast milk mammals produce for the first few days after giving birth. There are three phases of breast milk, each one providing the nourishment that newborns need as they become accustomed to living outside their mother’s womb.

Phase 1: Colostrum

Colostrum is packed with essential nutrients and other bioactive compounds that are vital to a newborn’s health and development. Compared to mature milk (or phase 3 milk), colostrum has more fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, hormones, growth factors, and other bioactive compounds, such as antibodies and immune system factors.1 After three days, the concentration of these compounds decreases rapidly.

Phase 2: Transitional Milk

Transitional milk is produced as colostrum changes to mature milk. The transition to mature milk takes about two weeks and begins two to five days after giving birth. Transitional milk has high levels of fat, lactose, and water-soluble vitamins and contains more calories than colostrum.2

Phase 3: Mature Milk

Mammals produce mature milk roughly two weeks after giving birth. Mature milk is the form of milk made for the duration of breastfeeding. The composition of mature milk is drastically different than colostrum. Ten percent of mature milk is made up of essential nutrients (carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals), whereas the other ninety percent is water.2

There are two types of mature milk: fore-milk and hind-milk. Fore-milk is present at the beginning of feedings and contains greater amounts of water, vitamins, and proteins. Hind-milk is produced later in the feeding and contains higher levels of fat.

Beneficial components of colostrum

As noted above, colostrum contains a unique profile of essential nutrients and other bioactive compounds. Colostrum contains more macro and micronutrients than both mature breast milk and cow’s milk. Compared to cow’s milk, colostrum has greater amounts of proteins; fats; carbs; magnesium; B vitamins; and vitamins A, C, and E.3 These nutrients play an important role in growth and development; however, the bioactive compounds are responsible for the majority of colostrum’s health benefits. These compounds include (but are not limited to):

Immune System Factors

There are multiple immune system factors in colostrum that work in various ways to support immune system function.4 Examples include:

  • Antibodies: Antibodies (or immunoglobulins) are proteins your immune system uses to protect against the invasion of viruses and bacteria. There are five major types of antibodies: IgA, IgG, IgM, IgE, and IgD. IgA is the primary antibody found in human colostrum, whereas IgG is the primary antibody in cow colostrum.
  • Lactoferrin: Lactoferrin is another protein used by your immune system to ward off potentially harmful invaders, such as bacteria and viruses.
  • Oligosaccharides: Oligosaccharides are proteins that provide immune system support by binding to potentially harmful invaders. They also act as prebiotics, helping to establish a healthy microbiome.
  • Immune system cells: Scientists are still working to understand the exact function of immune system cells, such as macrophages, neutrophils, and lymphocytes, which are all present in colostrum. Current theories suggest these cells help boost immune system function in two ways: 1) directly, by protecting against harmful invaders and 2) indirectly, through the transfer of immune system knowledge.

Growth Factors

Growth factors are proteins that promote the growth and development of cells and tissues in your body.5 There are a number of growth factors present in colostrum (see image below for examples).

Benefits of colostrum

The nutrients and compounds found in colostrum function in various ways to promote human health. In newborns, these components help stimulate growth, protect against infection, activate the immune system, and jumpstart gut function.6

In recent years, the use of colostrum supplements has gained popularity among adults. Supplements are typically made using cow colostrum. Cow (or bovine) colostrum is similar in composition to human colostrum and has substantial potential to promote human health well beyond the infant years.7 Findings from clinical studies suggest that bovine colostrum:

  • Supports immune system health: Bioactive compounds including antibodies, lactoferrin, oligosaccharides, and immune system cells are responsible for the immune system-boosting benefits of colostrum.
  • Supports digestive system health: Bioactive compounds including antibodies, growth factors, lactoferrin, and oligosaccharides are responsible for the digestive health benefits of colostrum.


Colostrum is the first milk mammals produce in the first few days after giving birth. This nutrient-packed form of milk helps jumpstart a newborn’s growth and development; however, clinical studies have examined colostrum’s potential to promote human health across the lifespan. Though more research is needed to determine the efficacy of colostrum supplements, it appears that consuming colostrum beyond the infant years offers numerous health benefits.

Check out 4Life Fundamentals Fortified Colostrum: A bovine-sourced colostrum product that features the immune system-boosting power of colostrum, fortified with additional key ingredients, to reinforce and support the immune system, digestive system, and respiratory system.*

References** 1. https://wicbreastfeeding.fns.usda.gov/phases-breast-milk 2. https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-overview-copy/#:~:text=Transitional%20milk%20occurs%20after%20colostrum,contains%20more%20calories%20than%20colostrum. 3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/bovine-colostrum#nutrition 4. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2017.00584/full 5. http://www.foodandnutritionjournal.org/volume1number1/colostrum-its-composition-benefits-as-a-nutraceutical-a-review/ 6. https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/breastfeeding/colostrum-is-superfood-for-your-newborn/ 7. Arslan A, Kaplan M, Duman H, Bayraktar A, Ertürk M, Henrick BM, Frese SA and Karav S (2021) Bovine Colostrum and Its Potential for Human Health and Nutrition. Front. Nutr. 8:651721. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2021.651721

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